Your browser is no longer supported. For the best experience of this website, please upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Memo from Musgrave: Goodbye B&B. Hello Zalando fashion festival

Success and failure were witnessed in Berlin this week. On Tuesday, the first day of the hectic multi-show schedule in Germany, I spent time with David Schneider, co-founder of the hugely successful ecommerce business Zalando.

Back in 2008, he and college friend Robert Gentz started selling flip-flops online, not really knowing what they were doing.

Today their business has a turnover of €2.2bn (£1.6bn), transactional sites for 15 European countries, more than 14 million users, 8,000 employees (including more than 3,000 at the biggest distribution centre in Europe), and is listed on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange. With a market capitalisation of €7.67bn (£5.47bn), the business’s first profit in 2014 was €82m (£58.5m). Gentz and Schneider are just 31. 

Zalando, which deals with around 1,300 brands including the recently added Gap, Topshop, Miss Selfridge, New Look and Whistles, opened a UK site in 2011 but Schneider admitted that sales are relatively small. In addition to acquiring British “partners” (and a 20% stake in Cheltenham-based software company Anatwine), Zalando is hiring British talent; it told Drapers approximately 10 Brits a week are moving to Berlin to work for this fast-growing phenomenon.

A few weeks ago the company bought Bread & Butter, the insolvent trade fair that was a major mover in making Berlin the fashion destination it is today. I met Schneider and his colleagues after visiting this season’s pathetic and last manifestation of the once-stupendous B&B. Still located in the vast Tempelhof Airport building, this was a sorry excuse for a trade event, a barely alive corpse comprising just three areas of widely spaced low-budget stands from largely unknown companies. I have seen more impressive car boot fairs.

The fall from grace and power of B&B and its charismatic founder Karl-Heinz Müller will no doubt be a subject for business school students for years to come. I would class Karl-Heinz as a friend, although I have not spoken to him for over six months. He expressed displeasure at Drapers’ coverage of his difficulties of the past 12 months, but we have been nothing but even-handed (even when information from the business was unclear or non-existent). 

It was very sad for me to walk round the small section of the airport terminal to see the tawdry gathering that in no way reflected B&B’s defiant slogan of being a “trade show for selected brands”. It was like finding an old friend sleeping rough in the streets.

It was weirdly poignant to see, as I left, a discarded copy of the huge coffee-table volume Müller had produced to celebrate the fair’s 10th anniversary in 2011. It has all gone downhill rapidly since that ego trip.

In an interesting sign of the times, Zalando (which played no part in this week’s travesty of a fair) intends to transform Bread & Butter into a consumer-only festival of fashion in 2016 as part of its strategy to “democratise” fashion to increase customer engagement. I can see it being a success. Elsewhere in Berlin the remaining trade events – Drapers visited six in all this week – continued without B&B’s help. I am surprised more British and Irish buyers do not make the relatively easy journey to the German capital. There is much to see.

Back home, we learn of the chancellor George Osborne’s plan to liberalise Sunday trading hours (see page 4). While perhaps more of a grocery story than a fashion one, it will be watched closely by Drapers readers. But longer hours will not put any more money into the market; it will just spread what’s there more thinly.

Readers' comments (3)

  • B&B has been a "must have" date in my diary for many years and whilst the B&B that we all know and remember is no longer with us, Drapers has, for many years, jumped on the success of this event. It is a shame to hear Mr Musgraves views casting such a negative, and dull, "read" considering the "fodder" B&B has provided Drapers, and it's subscribers, with over the years.......

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Eric Musgrave

    I am not sure of the point being made here. Did you, Mr Anonymous, even attend BBB last week? I have attended every edition of Bread&Butter since 2001 bar one. I wrote the 10-year retrospective of the event for Drapers. I worked several times for the fair itself as a freelance writer. So I know the exhibition very well.
    I question why last week's event even happened. Presumably it was something to do with the contract with Tempelhof Airport. Last week's farcical gathering was described to me (after my report was published) by a British exhibitor who sat there for three days as: "In the 20 years of working in the trade, this must be the worst trade event I have been involved in. A real disappointment for us & the industry as a whole."
    Your implication seems to be that Drapers has made money out of BBB in the past. Quite possibly, but have you considered how the magazine's constant and in-depth coverage of the event since its earliest inception helped it establish its once-formidable reputation?
    Drapers' job is to report things as we see them. That's what I did. I am happy to run any counter view, but preferably not from someone who chooses to rename anonymous and probably did not even attend the event.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Gracious Store

    "Back in 2008, he and college friend Robert Gentz started selling flip-flops online, not really knowing what they were doing."
    The dream of every retailer is to someday expand and continue to grow, but it comes heart breaking for some reason that what had grown into a huge company will begin to disintegrate

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.